Celebrity Chef Talks ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ and Building His Brand From Ground Up

Chef James 'J.R.' Robinson details how he went from homeless to running a booming company

Image: Courtesy of Chef James Robinson

You can watch five minutes of Fox’s hit show Hell’s Kitchen and see that only the best and most competitive survive under the seemingly impossible demands of Chef Gordon Ramsay. To make it to the finals, your cooking has to be flawless, your attitude has to be on mute as Chef Ramsay is always right, and you must be prepared to give 100% in every challenge.

But when the cameras aren’t rolling and the chefs have clocked out of competition mode, you can get a real glimpse of what goes into making a chef more than just a great cook, but a true entrepreneur as well.

BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the Harlem native, Chef James “J.R.” Robinson, to get insights into how his cooking skills caught the attention of the Fox network. With a booming catering business based in the Washington, D.C., area, Chef J.R. discusses how he overcame very humble beginnings to create a brand that is slowly putting him on track to become a household name chef.

BlackEnterprise.com: When did you discover your passion for cooking?

Chef James “J.R.” Robinson: I was 11 years old when I first got into the kitchen. I would look at my grandmother making breakfast and I was excited about it. Ever since then I was doing all the food for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was the helper.

The name of your catering company is Kitchen Cray. Where did that name come from, and can you tell me a bit about your company?

Kitchen Cray came from me trying to figure out a name that would jump out to people and that meant something. So in Cray, the C is for creativity, the R is for the revolution that I was trying to start with bringing chefs together, the A is for the artistry — because it’s an art — and the Y is for youth because I wanted to do a lot of stuff in the community with youth.

Kitchen Cray is a private chef company and a catering company. We do events from parties of two to 17,000. We try to bring that fine dining experience to your house or wherever we go, and we also bring that live aspect to your event. So instead of having a buffet station without any chefs, we put live chefs on it so you can talk to them and see who is cooking your food. It’s a way for you to have something in common with someone, and it’s an ice breaker to talk about the food.

You’re on this season of Hell’s Kitchen. What made you sign up for the show, and is it what you expected?

I signed up because I wanted a challenge and I wanted to do something different. I wanted to get my brand out more. I got a call from Chopped on the Food Network and Food Network Star too, but I chose Hell’s Kitchen because when I watched it, it seemed impossible to deal with Ramsay and when I got there it wasn’t what I expected.

When you go on a show like that, do you think you can ever really be prepared?

No. They just throw you in with no warning and it’s like you’re learning as you go. I don’t think anybody can be prepared. The only way you can be prepared is if you did it before and have a slight idea of how it works.

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